Cruel AttachmentsThe Ritual Rehab of Child Molesters in Germany

Cruel AttachmentsThe Ritual Rehab of Child Molesters in Germany

John Borneman

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780226233888

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


In every culture intimacy between adults and children is subject to regulation, but it is most often only a taboo. In the last half-century in the West such taboos have become explicit objects for legal regulation. In much of the West, however, the focus has shifted from punishment and healing to “rehabilitation” through therapy. In Germany treatment is in fact a legal right and a personal obligation. “Cruel Attachments” is an anthropological account based on ethnographic research in Berlin, Germany, of the attempt to rehabilitate child sex offenders through therapy, often accompanied by short-term imprisonment. Therapy is charged with creating a person who not only avoids a repeating the crime but a self capable of reflection, introspection, and transformation. Through an explication of this modern secular ritual of rehabilitation, John Borneman theorizes the complex relation between a legal system that demands a change of self, a transformation of the inner state of a person, and a public that is extremely skeptical of the success of rehab rituals. Using select case studies, he follows offenders as they experience a sequence of events––from accusation to admission of culpability, through arrest, trial, imprisonment, treatment, release from prison, and either social reincorporation or indefinite surveillance. Tensions and problems in the relationship between law, therapy, and a skeptical public notwithstanding, the author argues that the turn to therapy within the German mode of rehabilitation of child sex molesters presents a more effective alternative to a punitive model such as is practiced in the United States.